Transportation Career Spotlight – Patricia Ott

NETWC: What motivated you to get involved in civil engineering in general, and transportation in particular?

Patricia Ott: My father was biggest influence growing up, and my biggest supporter in getting me involved in engineering. Growing up I was a tomboy, and I loved to build things with my father. I always had an aptitude for math and science, and I had a talent for mechanical drawing. Once I arrived at Rutgers University, one of the first courses I took exposed you to all the different types of engineering so that you could pick a path for your next four years. I really took a liking to Civil Engineering; I loved the lab work and working with concrete. I went to the construction side of things because at the time, there really was no distinct transportation field.

NETWC: How did your K-12 background prepare you for college?

PO: Not very well. We had separate tracks in my high school; one for those who wanted to go into college, and another for those who were planning on taking a vocational route. The problem was, I excelled at mathematics, but a lot of the courses I wanted to learn were in a different track. So I did my best to take courses in both tracks, even though it wasn’t smiled upon. I remember when I planned on applying to engineering school, my guidance counselor counseled me against engineering, saying I would find a four year college too difficult and the program too rigorous, and advised me to go to accounting college instead. Thankfully, I disagreed and had the support of my parents to move ahead with engineering.

NETWC: Were there any other female engineers with you in the program? It seems to be a rare major for young girls, especially at the time.

PO: The ladies room was never crowded. There were only four of us. And I chose an even rarer combination of doing a five year double major of Civil Engineering and Psychology.

NETWC: That’s a fascinating combination; why did you choose psychology? Is that something that you feel has helped you as an engineer?

PO: I had a passion for people, and understanding people and how they think from a cognitive standpoint. And I do feel like it helped me immensely in my career. When I was at NJDOT, there were career track that you could be on; you were either going to be an expert engineer, or you were going to be a manager. Thanks to my aptitude in psychology, I was able to supervise people very well and I eventually made director. I think being both an engineer and a manager of people are key abilities to have if you want to advance in your career.

NETWC: Why did you choose to work at NJDOT?

PO: Because they were hiring. The job market at the time was poor, and I remember interviewing thinking this was the best chance I had to get involved with building, design, and materials…things I was very passionate about. It was after being at NJDOT for a few years that one day the New Jersey Institute of Technology announced that they were starting a pilot program for a Masters in Transportation. They approached NJDOT about holding the program with a dozen of us from NJDOT, and that’s where transportation really became more prominent in my career.

NETWC: How did working for NJDOT help you shape your career?

PO: I’d say the most important aspect for working for NJDOT was that it allowed me to become a truly well rounded Engineer. Whether it was design, safety, construction, materials…I even spent a year working with the budget director which helped learn more about finances and allowed me to become a better engineer, and a better director.

NETWC: Would you say you have a career accomplishment that you are proudest of at NJDOT?

PO: I can tell you one of things I’m most proud of; I was voted on by my staff for the department’s diversity award, for having the most diverse staff. It made me feel extremely proud to have my department be recognized for all the different people we had brought in of all different backgrounds. Also, being able to look back now at all the people who I was able to bring in that have gone on to have successful careers at NJDOT themselves. It’s extremely rewarding. And in that vein, I would say the thing I miss the most about NJDOT is the people that I worked with.

NETWC: How does it compare to having your own firm?

PO: Both are wonderful, but going back to my fathers influence, he always told me to try and work for yourself if you can. I got to the point where I was able to retire and start my own business and I took it. It’s great because now I can focus in on the things I really care about. I get to focus on traffic, safety, and saving people’s lives.

NETWC: In regards to the next generation of engineers that you are helping to train, there are concentrated efforts to get more women involved in STEM careers. What kinds of barriers do you think exists to getting more women involved?

PO: Well I think there is still a stigma that exists for young women. I have never considered myself to be a female engineer; just an engineer. There is no gender associated with it. But still, the lack of role models that exist in the field helps contribute to the perception I think leads many young people away from the field.

Part of the difficulty also lies with the teachers themselves. I have many friends who are teachers in the K-12 level. They would not have any idea what to even talk to the students about, or where to begin in discussing STEM careers. You have to start early. In the safety world, we try to reach out to kindergartners to help develop a safety culture.  Similarly, young people need to be reached in that K-12 timeframe if you want to instill a passion for STEM careers. Then they can carry it with them throughout the rest of their school days. The good thing is, there seems to be more opportunities today and more flexibility for students. The potential is out there, we just need to do a better job of inspiring them and educating them as to what a career in engineering actually entails.

There are so many potential avenues in STEM today that I think it limits the number of excuses you can make. People can enter STEM through engineering, planning, computer science…thanks to all the new technologies out there, the number of pathways are numerous.

NETWC: Are these barriers similar to what you faced?

PO: Absolutely. Things have changed for the better, but we still live in a culture that is inherently unequal. We talk a good game, but we need to do more to break down those barriers.

NETWC: What advice do you have for young women today who are interested in starting a career in engineering?

PO: Be fearless. I know many people, at least in my age group, who were fearful of math, and turned off by things they saw as “boys careers”. Life is tough enough without letting people put you into a box, and I think it’s important for young women to live up to their own expectations, and not the expectations that other people, or society in general has for them.

Also, I think it’s important to be goal oriented. I have seen studies that show that many women don’t take STEM majors; that’s one problem. But I’ve also see that many women who took take STEM courses in college ultimately avoid STEM careers. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons for why that is, but we need to do a better job of continually motivating our young girls to see not only the path ahead of them, but where that path could eventually lead them.

When I did the Summer Transportation Institute, it was focused on careers. We did a half day program on safety, and we also did a piece on careers based on the four E’s. Engineering, Enforcement, EMS, and Educations. And I highlighted all the careers within those four E’s so that young people could see all the potential landing spots in transportation ahead of them.

NETWC: Thanks so much for speaking with us today Mrs. Ott, we appreciate you taking the time.



Spotlights of the Week

Each week, the Northeast Transportation Workforce Center highlights a new person or program who is advancing transportation careers in our region. Check out our list below to see our past highlights!


Bill Would Take Steps to Encourage Women to Pursue Aviation Careers

“Although women make up more than 50 percent of our nation’s workforce, they are significantly underrepresented in the aviation industry, representing just 6 percent of pilots, 4 percent of flight engineers and 2 percent of airline mechanics,” Senator Susan Collins said. “Our bipartisan legislation encourages the aviation industry to offer opportunities, such as pilot training, STEM education, and mentorship programs that would help women to pursue and succeed in aviation-related careers.”

The FAA would also be directed under the bill to report to Congress on trends that discourage women from working in aviation, and on the expansion of existing scholarship opportunities.


PennDot Seeking CDL Holders for Seasonal Maintenance Work

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is seeking commercial driver license holders to take on temporary maintenance work as the state braces for inclement weather this winter. Kevin Stewart, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said PennDOT’s temporary positions serve as good opportunities for people in the construction industry that may not have year-round employment.


NJ Strives to Stay Ahead in Transportation, Logistics, and Distribution

New Jersey’s business and government leaders recognize the value in the state becoming a major center of distribution and logistics, so they are looking for its education system to help New Jersey remain a step ahead. Business leaders say they have plenty of jobs available in this sector and want colleges to evolve, so well-trained workers are available here in the Garden State well into the future.


Electrify Pennsylvania Transportation System

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection soon will begin recommending projects to receive funding from the state’s settlement allocation (nearly $120 million) to help right this wrong and offset the vehicles’ additional pollution. State leaders should select projects that achieve long-term emissions reductions and help focus our transportation sector on building infrastructure for clean electric vehicles.


UMES Summer Transportation Institution Pushes to Stimulate Interest in STEM Career

Middle schoolers participated in the Summer Transportation Institution at UMES during June 19th to July 7th, 2017. This program provides awareness and hopes to stimulate interest towards transportation and STEM-related careers.  Students are able to explore these fields through field trips and hands on activities.


3 Reasons to Hire a Hero

As thousands of American employers know, hiring veterans is a smart move. There are more than 7 million veterans in the U.S. labor force, meaning they’re either employed or actively looking for work. If you’re curious about working with veterans, here are three great reasons to hire one:


Forget Autonomous Cars; Autonomous Ships are Already Here

The Women In Trucking Association (WIT) is proud to announce that Insights Success magazine has named Ellen Voie, its president and CEO, as one of the “30 Most Empowering Women in Business.” Voie founded WIT in 2007 to promote the employment of women in the trucking industry, remove obstacles that might discourage women from considering a career in transportation, and celebrate the successes of association members. WIT has grown dramatically over the past decade and now exceeds 4,500 members.


Women In Trucking Association CEO Named One of the “30 Most Inspirational Leaders in Business”

The Women In Trucking Association (WIT) is proud to announce that Insights Success magazine has named Ellen Voie, its president and CEO, as one of the “30 Most Empowering Women in Business.” Voie founded WIT in 2007 to promote the employment of women in the trucking industry, remove obstacles that might discourage women from considering a career in transportation, and celebrate the successes of association members. WIT has grown dramatically over the past decade and now exceeds 4,500 members.

Container shipping takes on digital initiatives

“Maersk’s partnership with IBM, announced in March, to develop blockchain solutions for freight is one example of potential mutual benefit. According to one estimate, shippers spend twice as much on shipping processes, including documentation, as they do on actual freight movement.”


Transportation Technology Wises Up

Self-driving trucks, intelligent highways and freight-hauling apps are changing the way goods can be transported and delivered. Semi-autonomous vehicle technologies also offer a potential solution to the shortage of truck drivers,  with many drivers having recently retired from the industry. These advanced technologies may actually extend the careers of aging drivers and attract even more candidates to the industry, including women.

12 Stats About Working Women

This Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at women’s contributions to the U.S. labor force.  Here are some noteworthy statistics we’ve rounded up!


Graduate Student Internship in Division of Capital Investment Planning & Development

The NJDOT Bureau of Research has issued this posting on behalf of the division of Capital Investment Planning & Development. The CIPD requires the assistance in the identification, preparation, and submission of project modifications or amendments to the STIP in accordance with the MOU for TIP/STOP changes between the three MPOs, NJ Transit, and NJDOT, fully executed October 2012.


Why Apprenticeships Are Taking Off

For the last decade, the Manpower Group, a human resources consultancy, has tracked the skills gap. It found that employers across the globe are facing the most acute talent shortage since the recession in 2007. Of the more than 42,000 employers surveyed, 40 percent said they are experiencing difficulty filling roles.

Operating Engineers Training Programs

Over the years, IUOE local unions throughout the U. S. and Canada have developed and implemented comprehensive training programs that are widely recognized as the best in a number of industries. Our aim has been and continues to be to provide highly skilled, safe, and productive heavy equipment operators and stationary/facilities engineers to the construction, pipeline, stationary and environmental industries.